Monthly Archives: August 2013

Rape culture in pop culture

This is a great blog post on how to talk with your children about rape culture in pop culture.

How to Talk With Your Sons About Robin Thicke

If you have ears, you’ve heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve had any amount of spare time in the past few days and have access to the internets, you’ve heard about Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s with Miley Cyrus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You must have looked past the headlines on CNN’s main page in order to read about “secondary” news like Egypt or Syria. You can find a video of the performance here.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99% of things written about it throw around words like “obscene”, “offensive”, and the like.

There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up withgood ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality.

But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

There are next to no commentaries, articles, or blog posts that talk about how Robin Thicke was on stage with a woman young enough to be his daughter while thrusting his pelvis and repeating the line “I know you want it” while T.I. non-chalantly raps about much more graphic stuff. As Shelli Latham astutely points out:

“Girls’ sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman’s access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens or when they are coming into adulthood.”

Issues of misogynistic attitudes and acts of violence toward women aren’t going anywhere until us men make some very intentional decisions about our behavior and about the way we act toward women. There are certain things that Robin Thicke and “Blurred Lines” re-inforce in our culture.

For instance… Studies have shown that viewing images of objectified women gives men “greater tolerance for sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance,” and helps them view women as “less competent” and “less human“. Certainly singing about “blurred lines” will at the very least reinforce a culture that already trivializes the importance of consent.*

There’s nothing blurry about Robin Thicke’s role in the VMA debacle. Even though he’s come out and defended his song, going so far as to call it a “feminist movement,” it’s pretty plain to see that’s far from the case.

Here’s where it starts

So what can we do? In order to change the way we view women culturally, we need to change the way we view women individually. We need to call bullshit on attempts to end domestic violence and misogyny towards women by only talking to our daughters. We need to talk to our sons and our brothers about respecting women and respecting themselves.

It starts in homes. It starts in small conversations that treat all people as worthy and equal. It starts with having the courage to speak out against the wide variety of forces in our society that objectify women.

It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us.

Be brave enough to tell a different story. Be courageous enough to rise above the lies that our culture tells you about how to treat women. In doing so, you’ll help create a better world for your sons. And for your sons’ sons. And that’s something to which we should all aspire.

Dr. Phil’s quickly deleted “tweet”

Dr. Phil recently posted this on Twitter…

Dr. Phil's tweet

Five Problems with Dr. Phil’s Tweet, via feministing: 

Last night, Dr. Phil sent out a quickly deleted — but more quickly screen-grabbed — tweet about sexual violence and alcohol. “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.” Rightfully so, the feminist internet erupted in outrage, forcing a representative to justify Dr. Phil’s tweet as promotion for an upcoming show, as though somehow everything is excusable so long as you’re trying to get people to stare at your face on a screen.

Unsurprisingly, the rep’s non-apology — “[the tweet] was not intended to be taken lightly” –missed the source of the protest. We weren’t angry that the tweet was too flip. We were angry because it promotes sexual violence. Here are my five biggest objections to Dr. Phil’s question; tell me what yours are in the comments.

1. The tweet perpetuates the idea that rape is blurry.

Let’s start with a story. During my collegiate freshman orientation five years ago, my classmates and I were hoarded into an auditorium to learn about consent. On the stage two actors pantomimed a date rape (why anyone thought any of this was a good idea, I have no idea): girl comes to boy’s room to study, they make out, girl takes off her shirt, boy ignores her refusal to have sex and rapes her. Each student was given a little stop sign, which we were supposed to raise when we thought the boy had crossed the line: essentially, when the violence had begun. Afterward, we broke into little discussion groups to talk about our personal opinions on whether what had happened was rape and why. I said it was. The guy who lived downstairs in my dorm said it wasn’t. The facilitator gave our opinions equal weight.

There are obviously a whole ton of reasons this orientation activity was terrible, but the thing that particularly worried me was the program’s messaging that there wasn’t a right answer. If everyone’s definition of rape is equally valid, rape doesn’t really exist: how can we name violence if anyone’s “but I don’t think it is” works as an accepted counterargument? When every student’s decision as to when to raise the little red stop sign, if at all, is correct, the category of rape dissolves quite literally into a series of blurred lines, about which some of us will have Happy Feelings and some of us will have Sad Feelings, and isn’t that interesting.

Dr. Phil’s tweet reminded me a lot of my freshman consent education. The phrasing of the question, and invitation for all of us to respond with our one-word judgments, presented consent as an ultimately unresolvable dilemma. Some will say yes, some will say no. Who can ever really tell? What an ageless question.

The stakes are high. The more we talk as though rape is blurry, the more likely it is to occur. Implicit in Dr. Phil’s tweet was the suggestion that, you know, maybe it is fine to sleep with an incapacitated person. Maybe this is all just up for debate.

2. The question is too simple for the problem.

As Angus Johnston pointed out on Twitter last night, there are actually a number of important questions to ask about sex, sexual violence, consent, and alcohol. After all, it isn’t always rape to sleep with someone who has been drinking; the line for judging whether someone can give consent is incapacitation, not the existence of any alcohol in our blood. “Drunk” isn’t a precise term, so if we use it to mean a wider range of mental states than just incapacitation, there’s a real discussion to be had here. How drunk is too drunk for consent to be meaningful? How can we best respond to our partners’ desires when they’ve been drinking?

These are helpful questions — vital questions –  that we need to talk about with nuance and care. “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no” doesn’t ask us to grapple with the serious issue at hand but instead to pass a thoughtless one-word judgement.

3. The question assumes all victims are women.

Dr. Phil didn’t ask about whether it’s “OK” to have sex with a drunk person: he could only imagine a “drunk girl” as a potential maybe-victim. The assumption that survivors are women and perpetrators are men helps no one. It ignores the experiences and particular needs of male and gender non-conforming survivors and glosses over same-sex violence. The idea also hurts women, too: the more we conflate femininity and vulnerability, the more vulnerable we become. When we’ve internalized that to be a woman is to be a victim, it’s much harder to stand up for ourselves and articulate our desires.

4. The tweet focused on offenders rather than survivors.

Dr. Phil was very clearly tweeting at an audience of potential rapists, rather than survivors present or future. That “you” (“can you have sex with her”) is telling: the agent and intended responder is the maybe-offender, not the drunk girl. And Dr. Phil’s concern for the assailant over concern for the harm done or well-being of the survivor is underscored by the #teensaccused hashtag. As my friend Wagatwe Wanjuki said, “what about #teensraping or #teensraped?”

It’s a mark of remarkable privilege to assume that you’re talking to a world of people more likely to commit violence than sustain it. Of course these categories aren’t mutually exclusive – victims can be perpetrators – but only those shielded from harm, who can identify more with offenders than their targets, can possibly forget the survivors in the audience.

That fact of forgetting is disturbing in itself, but it’s also profoundly unproductive. Want to have a conversation about rape? Maybe you should talk to survivors! We’ll learn a lot more about defining violence from those who have experienced it than from potential offenders trying to figure out if their own actions were criminal or not.

5. Dr. Phil is concerned with “can” rather than “should.”

From Dr. Phil’s tweet, you’d think that rape is just a kind of sex that we’re not allowed to have. Dr. Phil’s question looks to define what we can get away with in our pursuit of pleasure rather than how we should interact with our partners to make sure we’re all happy and safe. The focus on what we “can” do again centers us on the potential offender’s well-being rather than the potential survivor’s and makes room for more violence.

I saw this idea best articulated on the blog A Radical TransFeminist last year (hat tip Kate Sim) when the writer dissected the question “Is it rape if somebody has sex while drunk?” I’ll never articulate it as well, so I’d rather just quote at length. Lisa writes:

Asking, “Is this legally rape?” carries an undertone of, “If you say it’s not, I’ll go ahead and do it”, and is a question which should be turned around and asked back as: Why are you so relaxed – and even enthusiastic – about maybe raping someone?

You don’t get this in other contexts. You don’t get folks saying, “Well, I’m going to do this thing which may or may not kill somebody. It’s probably fine as long as it’s legal.” … We can solve this apparent contradiction by clarifying what our questioner is actually worried about. They aren’t worried about raping. They are worried about social consequences of rape. They are worried about being named a rapist. They are okay with “maybe” being a rapist as long as it won’t come back to bite them…

If you care about not raping, because you care about not raping, then the only way to be sure you’re not raping is to be sure you’re not raping. This means not having sex when you’re not sure whether it’s rape or not. This means that if you’re asking the question, “Is it rape if I…?” then you may not know the answer, but you know what you should do.

What did you think about Dr. Phil’s tweet? What problems did you see? (Don’t reply yes or no)

Handling cyber harassment

Cyber Harassment: What the Online Community Can Do to Stop the Trolls, via The Huffington Post

The Internet is a bountiful source of information, commerce, entertainment and enlightenment. We share stories and pictures online. We cheer up our friends with encouraging messages. We read the news and share our opinions about the issues of the day. We watch funny videos and search for jobs, mates and rare copies of Ramones albums. Cyberspace is no longer a science fiction concept, but an alternate universe that exists in our reality, one that we can tap into at any time, from anywhere.

It is a wondrous place.

However, as in the real world, you’ll also find the corrupt and depraved. Thieves will try to steal your identity. Con artists will attempt to rob you of your affection and cash. And trolls will ambush you, intent on harming your sanity, your self-worth and your reputation.

Over the course of my 22 years in journalism, I have been threatened numerous times. Sometimes the subjects of my stories didn’t like having their misdeeds aired to the public, and so they lashed out. Sometimes, the people involved were just nuts.

I once wrote a story about an assistant fire chief who got caught driving drunk. A day later, an unidentified man left a message on my answering machine saying that if I ever have a fire at my house, don’t bother calling the fire department because they wouldn’t come.

A man who was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in her dorm room once vowed to hunt me down and rape me “til I bled to death” because I had the temerity to write about the case. If only these comments could have been used at trial; it might have changed the outcome. Unfortunately, he was later acquitted because the judge said sex without a woman’s consent was not rape unless the attacker used force or the threat of force. Apparently, begging him to stop the assault was not enough.

One man was so incensed about the fact that a story on Lady Gaga had appeared on the front page of a website where I worked that he emailed and said he wanted the U.S. government to kidnap me, throw me in Guantanamo, torture me for 10 years and then dump my body on my parents’ lawn. I wasn’t even the person who published the innocuous profile.

More recently, I have been cyber-harassed, and it wasn’t in response to anything I had actually written or said. Instead, someone created a fake profile bearing a stranger’s name and used that account to post horrible anti-Semitic comments online. Then someone apparently stole a picture from my Website and digitally added it to displays of those comments, implying that the comments came from me. Some trolls then took to their blog and to Twitter to write about it. The sum effect of all of this slandered my reputation as a journalist by alleging that I was a bigot and a coward. Such lies not only defame my character, but my employers’ as well.

People of all ages, races, religions and nationalities are considered possible marks for trolls, but female journalists are a popular target. Why just in the past month, several female journalists have been threatened with bomb attacks online. Imagine logging onto one of your favorite micro blogging sites and seeing this:


So how are we, the innocent parties, supposed to respond to these despicable actions? Here is some of the advice I’ve received:

“Don’t feed the trolls. Just ignore them. They’ll go away.”

“You need to develop a tougher skin. It’s the Internet after all.”

And my personal favorite, “Well, that’s the price of fame.”

Basically, don’t feed the egos of the attention-starved people who use the Internet to (often anonymously) defame, harass and frighten. Or worse, accept that this is how the world should work instead of trying to change it.

To which, I call bullshit.

I would not tolerate such behavior in person, and I am certainly not about to do so online. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Others have also decided to fight back.

Emma Barnett, women’s editor for the Telegraph in London, tried to ignore the bomb threat she received by meeting with friends at a local pub. It was, after all, just one of many online attacks she has experienced on Twitter and on her articles for years. Barnett was also reticent to contact the police because she didn’t have much faith in their understanding of the problem. Barnett eventually decided to share her story online in order to launch a conversation about the best ways to deal with such abuse.

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance writer and feminist campaigner who successfully lobbied the Bank of England to feature a female face (other than the Queen’s) on British bank notes. For this, she received numerous online threats of rape and murder. Examples include: “Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart — give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place” and “Everyone report @CriadoPerez for rape and murder threats and also being a cunt #malemasterrace.”

Criado-Perez could have ignored these comments and hoped that none of the threats were serious. Instead she and other Twitter users began adding the hashtag #SHOUTINGBACKto their tweets. She also wrote a brilliant essay on the topic in which she talks about how difficult it is for people to openly discuss the issue of cyber-harassment.

“I am making people uncomfortable. If I continue to ‘feed the trolls,’ I deserve all I get. Never mind that ignoring or blocking only results in new accounts being set up — or the trolls simply finding a new victim. Never mind that my ‘trolls’ are trying to shut me up. Never mind: take this awkward truth away,” Criado-Perez wrote.

After learning about Criado-Perez’s story, Kim Graham took to to lobby Twitter into installing a “report abuse” button on all tweets.

“Abuse on Twitter is common; sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to recognise that it’s current reporting system is below required standards,” she wrote. To date, more than 135,000 people have signed the petition.

Catherine Mayer, TIME’s Europe editor, has often been on the receiving end of sexist comments and cyber-bullying. But when she became the target of a bomb threat on Twitter and found out other female journalists had been victimized, she contacted police.

“I think this is something that is never properly taken into account. People always say of individual incidents, ‘that’s not very serious is it? Don’t let it bother you,'” Mayer said. “But it’s the accretion of all of these incidents of low level abuse that matter, and that’s very true of female journalists. Both in the virtual world, and the real world, we encounter throughout our working lives low level abuse and low level harassment all the time.”

Hadley Freeman, a columnist for the Guardian who recently received a bomb threat online, reported it to the police and then took to her column to discuss the problem of trolls.

“It doesn’t matter if you think you are fighting the feminist cause by railing at newspaper columnists who you believe are insufficiently feminist, covertly racist, blatantly transphobic or anything else. Abusing people is not a good way to get anyone to consider your complaints seriously. As Helen Lewis wrote in the New Statesman last week, ‘Being a dick to people on Twitter is not activism. Hashtag truesay,'” Freeman wrote.

Think Progress reporter Alyssa Rosenberg has tweeted the full names and institutional affiliations of trolls under the #ThreatoftheDay hashtag. “Threaten me,” Rosenberg wrote, “and I will cheerfully do my part to make sure that when employers, potential dates, and your family Google you, they will find you expressing your desire to see a celebrity assault a blogger.”

The Everyday Sexism Project seeks to expose the breadth of the problem by cataloguing the abuse women experience on a daily basis. Since British writer Laura Bates launched the site in 2012, it has received more than 25,000 stories about women being followed, humiliated and attacked (online and off).

The International News Safety Institute plans to study the issue as well, and will launch a global survey into violence against women journalists and the nature of the dangers they face in relation to their work, from physical threats to cyber-bulling. All women working in the news media are invited to participate.

And then there’s the unmasking option, which Gawker did in 2012 when it revealed that Michael Brutsch was actually the troll known as Violentacrez on Reddit. As writer Adrian Chen noted, “If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit. At the time I called Brutsch, his latest project was moderating a new section of Reddit where users posted covert photos they had taken of women in public, usually close-ups of their asses or breasts, for a voyeuristic sexual thrill.”

Brutsch was eventually fired from his real-world job after being outed.

Now as we all know female journalists aren’t the only ones being targeted by trolls. There have been way too many stories in the news about men using Craigslist to send strangers to rape ex-girlfriends, ex-employees trying get back at their former bosses by publishing defamatory comments and subscribing them to porn sites/magazines, and teens posting vicious rumors and lies about fellow students. The devastation felt by these victims is incalculable, and in some cases even led to suicide.

This type of behavior has to stop.

In recent years, politicians and law enforcement have stepped up efforts to combat the thieves and con artists. They’ve passed safety measures to battle against fraud, and created avenues for cybercrime victims to file complaints. Yet when it comes to trolls, there is generally little legal recourse. Victims can document the threats and defamatory comments, but that does not stop the abusers nor does it keep them from attacking others. So what else can we, as citizens of the Internet, do to end such atrocious behavior?

* Education is key to changing attitudes and making clear that the denigration of women and violence against them are unacceptable, Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, told CNN. “I hope the horrendous level of this kind of trolling is going to push this issue into the forefront” and prompt government action.

* Freedom of speech has its limits, and people need to learn what they are. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. You can’t threaten violence with the intent of putting someone at risk for bodily harm or death. You do not have a constitutional right to tell lies that damage or defame the reputation of a person or organization.

* If you see something, say something. Don’t allow trolls to take over your blogs or social media feeds. If you spy terrible comments, delete them. If the abusers continue to spew their hatred at you, ban their IP address. And if you notice that trolls are attacking someone else, don’t ignore the problem. Stand up for the victim and make it clear that such cruelty is not acceptable under any circumstances.

* Internet providers and Website administrators must be more proactive against threatening and defamatory speech. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that it would create an “in-tweet” report button and roll it out to all platforms. This is an excellent start. Hiring moderators, banning users who abuse others, blocking anonymous users and sharing threats with authorities would be a great second step.

Train the police. Many departments are becoming savvy social media users, as evidenced by the official usage of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Google+ to share Amber Alerts and BOLOs. But officers also need to learn how to deal with cases of cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and cyber-scams.

* Arrest the perpetrators. Police in England did just that last month, in response to online threats made against Criado-Perez and politician Stella Creasy. Perhaps a bit of jail time will make trolls think twice before typing out another online threat.

* Lastly, the Internet community must discuss this issue, and create clear and helpful guidelines for victims of online abuse.

No one should have to suffer in silence.


Sexual assault on campus

The Five Big Lies About Campus Rape via The Chronicle:

I was reading Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Tackling the Roots of Rape” this morning and had two thoughts. One is that it is progress for a man to be interviewing a man about how to prevent sexual assault. Too much anti-rape activism is focused on lecturing women on how to protect themselves and too little on the largest potential pool of rapists and their destructive ideas about sex. Furthermore, men talking to men about rape, and cutting through the myths about sexuality and masculinity than enable sexual violence, is an effective strategy.

My second thought was how glad I am that I no longer teach at a residential campus. For years one student after another (mostly female, although two men reported having been raped by other men during my time there) told me awful, searing stories about the sexual violence on campus. The initial trauma was not infrequently compounded by the actions (or lack thereof) of those who were on the various disciplinary boards that dealt what would, in another context, be clearly understood as potential felonies. Part of what was heartbreaking about these conversations was that, not infrequently, the person (usually a woman) who had been raped had been persuaded to go along with a procedure in which the offender suffered no real punishment. She was also told that the entire proceeding was confidential, and she could talk to no one about what had happened. It was never clear to me what the consequences to a student breaking her or his silence would have been, but students usually believed that they would be expelled while the perpetrator continued to walk the campus.

At Zenith, sexual assault prevention was part of frosh orientation, and was organized around failures of communication and consent. I always wondered whether these inane workshops came back into students’ minds, in that hazy state of mind that can take over while a person is being brutally raped. Where was the moment that the conversation about consent was supposed to happen? Where the person who is raping me was supposed to care about my feelings and hear me say no? Should it have happened before or after she accepted a ride home with the person who stopped on a dark, deserted highway and explained she was getting out right nowunless some serious fellatio occurred. Was this the moment she was supposed to say brightly:

“No means no!”

The audience for this publication is largely academic, so most of you know what I’m talking about. But as the time for packing your kid up for college grows near, here are  The Five Big Lies you might want to talk to your kid about:

Lie #1: Most rapes are the result of a lack of communication. Most rapes are the result of one person wanting to exert power over another and getting a heightened sexual charge out of it. As David Lisak and Paul Miller’s research has showed, the vast majority of rapes within closed communities like college campuses are serial rapists. The person raping you has probably done it before, and if you are a new face on campus, you were probably pre-selected at the party by the rapist in consultation with his psychopath friends. The friends may not be rapists themselves, but they have been reassuring the big guy all night that “she’s really into you,” and they may assist in isolating the chosen victim from her friends. Even if the assault ultimately makes them uncomfortable, they are unlikely to intervene.

Lie #2: If you are sexually assaulted, the college/university will help you.  This is almost universally untrue, as the recent spate of lawsuits demonstrates. Unfortunately, most students who make it through to college believe that schools operate in their best interests because — well, they always have. Students who, following a rape investigation, feel that they have been harmed by school administrators, or treated unfairly by them, can tell their story to the Marines (literally.) Repeat: if raped, the college is not your friend, and every administrator you meet is tasked with protecting the college from a lawsuit. Their procedures are intended to sweep what happened under the rug make this bad thing go away, contain the damage, and eliminate as much evidence as possible that might be used to prove them liable.  They also know perfectly well that their crappy procedures run the risk of doing great harm to the reputations of young men who have been accused of rape, so they trend towards rituals of reconciliation, remorse and if necessary, removal.

If I had a child going to college, I would underline these points:

  • if you have been raped, do not shower or change your clothes. Go to the hospital and have a rape kit done;
  • do not try to protect your parents from what happened: yes, they will be hurt and angry with th school, but they will want to take care of you;
  • if your roommate has been raped, do not listen to all the victim crap about how it will be worse for him or her to go to the police. Do everything you can to get her to report this crime to the proper authorities. Part of the point of rape is to shame you into submission. Do not collaborate.
  • If you think you have been raped, you have been.
  • Know that any and all college procedures are crafted with the knowledge that the longer a rape report is delayed, the more likely it is that the student’s only option will be a university coverup campus disciplinary hearing.

Lie #3: If I try to intervene in a sexual assault, people will think I’m a fag/a man-hater/not fun/uptight. What if turns out to be regret sex/a hook-up gone wrong? Part of what is so searing about Ariel Levy’s recent story about the Steubenville rape trial in the New Yorker is how familiar it is. Young men and women watched something ghastly taking place in front of them, and instead of feeling empathy for the victim, they turned it into a party game. Have your kid read that story, and then have your kid read a book by Peggy Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood and Privilege on Campus (1990). The book is about a group of frat brothers whopulled a train on a woman at a party, in full view of a group of young men and women, who decided that she deserved to be raped because she was inebriated, out of control and coming on to guys.  These, with Bernard Lefkowitz’s Our Guys (1998), argue that the most moral kid in the room usually thinks the only ethical decision is to leave, not help the victim, protest, or call the cops. Clearly these scenarios far pre-date hook-up culture.

Make these points to your kid:

  • if sex looks non-consensual, it probably is. Don’t take a chance.
  • People who are drunk or stoned cannot consent to sex: in some states, that’s the law.
  • if you see someone at the party who is too inebriated to make good decisions, get them out of there.
  • if you and your friends are throwing the party, one or more of you is responsible for remaining sober and patrolling the house to pre-empt violence and coerced sex.
  • unless it is a sex party, with explicit rules and enforced sobriety, nobody should be having public sex at your party. It’s rude and fucked up.

Lie #4: People who have been raped are victims who should not be forced to take any action they do not wish to take. This includes reporting the rape. There are two problems here. One is that calling someone a “victim” increases that person’s subordination unless you add the prepositional phrase: “of a crime.” But secondly, a person who has been raped needs to understand that, like the bystander who walks away, to do nothing is to take an action that has consequences, both for herself and for others. The original trauma will probably be compounded by anger, powerlessness and what is now being recognized as a form of PTSD (look at veterans’ recent testimony on the consequences of having been sexually assaulted.) Even more troubling, this person will almost certainly go on to rape someone else. And someone else. And someone else. Is it your fault? No. Could someone put a stop to it by filing charges against the bastard? Yes.

The lie that goes with this (we could call it Big Lie #4b) is: it would be better just to forget about this terrible thing and move on. Campus disciplinary procedures often promise this form of resolution, and they tend not to deliver. A rapist might be asked to leave campus — for a semester. Next semester? He’s ba-a-a-a-ck!

Furthermore, the school has no jurisdiction over (and no clue about) the social consequences of procedures that do not graphically underline that a crime has occurred. Because guess what? The rapist talks! What happened was so unfair! It was totally a hook-up! She’s such a bitch! Friends of the rapist, of both genders, will slut-shame you on student-only campus websites, come up to you and ask you why you are ruining their friend’s life, and make your life at school difficult to impossible. If they had to come to terms with the fact that their “friend” was being charged with a crime — rather than a sexual misunderstanding — this might make things a little more real.

Lie#5: You must agree to confidentiality. This is absolutely the sleaziest thing that colleges do, in my opinion, and it isn’t clear to me that they have any legal right to do this.

So talk to your kids before they go back to school. Here is a really good page posted by Roger Williams University that provides some excellent talking points for you and your kid, particularly if your kid is male, a good guy and may find himself in a morally compromised position where he should act to help someone else.


Changing our culture

Tackling the Roots of Rape, Via The New York Times

Steubenville. The Naval Academy. Vanderbilt University. The stories of young men sexually assaulting young women seem never to stop, despite all the education we’ve had and all the progress we’ve supposedly made, and there are times when I find myself darkly wondering if there’s some ineradicable predatory streak in the male subset of our species.

Wrong, Chris Kilmartin told me. It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer.

I reached out to Kilmartin, a psychology professor and the author of the textbook “The Masculine Self,” after learning that the military is repeatedly reaching out to him. Right now he’s in Colorado, at the Air Force Academy, which imported him for a year to teach in the behavioral sciences department and advise the school on preventing sexual violence.

He previously worked on a Naval Academy curriculum with that aim, and helped to write a training film for the Army. At a time of heightened concern about rape and related crimes in the armed services, he’s being welcomed as someone with insights into the problem.

Its deepest roots, he said, are the cult of hyper-masculinity, which tells boys that aggression is natural and sexual conquest enviable, and a set of laws and language that cast women as inferior, pliable, even disposable.

“We start boys off at a very early age,” Kilmartin told me during a recent phone conversation. “When the worst thing we say to a boy in sports is that he throws ‘like a girl,’ we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women. That’s the cultural undercurrent of rape.”

Boys see women objectified in popular entertainment and tossed around like rag dolls in pornography. They encounter fewer women than men in positions of leadership. They hear politicians advocate for legislation like the Virginia anti-abortion bill that would have required women who wanted to end pregnancies to submit to an invasive vaginal ultrasound.

“Before you make a reproductive choice, you are going to be required to have somebody penetrate you with an object,” he said. “That’s very paternalistic: we know what’s right. You’re not in control of your own body.”

He noted that discussions of domestic violence more often included the question of why a battered woman stayed than the question of why a battering man struck, as if the striking was to be expected. Men will be brute men, just as boys will be lusty boys.

If Kilmartin’s observations can read at times like humorless chunks of a politically correct tome, that’s not how he actually comes across. He’s loose, funny. In fact he’s got a sideline hobby as a stand-up comic. No joke.

And he’s got a trove of less wonky riffs. He mentions the University of Iowa, which for decades has painted the locker room used by opponents pink to put them “in a passive mood” with a “sissy color,” in the words of a former head football coach, Hayden Fry.

He mentions the bizarre use of the term “sex scandals” for such incidents as Tailhook decades ago and the recent accusations that Bob Filner, the mayor of San Diego, groped women around him, among other offenses. “They’re violence scandals,” he said. “If I hit you over the head with a frying pan, I don’t call that cooking.”

The armed services are a special challenge, because they’re all about aggression, summoning and cultivating Attila the Hun and then asking him to play Sir Walter Raleigh as well.

But Kilmartin said that that’s a resolvable tension, if men are conditioned to show the same self-control toward women that they do, successfully, in following myriad military regulations; if they’re encouraged to call out sexist behavior; and if, above all, commanders monitor their own conduct, never signaling that women are second-class citizens.

The integration of women into combat duties will help, bolstering women’s standing and altering a climate of inequality, Kilmartin said.

But he and the rest of us are taking on fortified traditions and calcified mind-sets, and that’s evident in the enrollment in the two classes of Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Men and Masculinity that he began teaching on Friday. Although female cadets are about 20 percent of the Air Force Academy, they’re more than half of the students who signed up for Kilmartin’s course, he said.

He said that one of them, during the very first session, recounted that someone at flight school over the summer had told her that women shouldn’t fly planes.

“Oh, so do you fly a plane with your penis?” Kilmartin asked the class.

One of the male cadets responded: “Sounds like you’re issuing a challenge, sir.”

Portraits of Courage

Thank you, Penny, for sharing your inspiration, your talent, and your vision of this amazing, powerful project with us!



Portraits of Courage exhibit on display at The United Way
Lewiston Sun Journal 

FARMINGTON — Portraits of Courage: Where Do We Find the Strength, an exhibit or original artwork honoring survivors of violence and their advocates, is on display at the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area on Broadway.

Two years ago, Penny Hood of Farmington, an artist and a licensed clinical professional counselor, stumbled upon an image of a 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan who had been raped by her next-door neighbor. The man was also the chief of police, who intended to intimidate her family and take their property. Her expression was blank, traumatized and hopeless.

As an artist, Hood felt drawn to paint her portrait and in doing so found that she had straightened her spine and put steel in her eyes. She had been transformed and Hood wished she could have shown her the image, perhaps allowing her to see a different future.

Hood couldn’t help but ponder the question of how survivors get from one place to another. Teaming up with SAVES, the local sexual assault prevention and response agency, she launched the art project this past spring.

Focusing on what recovery looks like in the lives of people who are (or work with) survivors of abuse, Portraits of Courage inspires and encourages those who have not yet found their own strength, to reach out for help. It includes screened participants who are willing to lend their voices and offer hope in a public venue; confidential interviews focused on the question: “Where did you find the strength to walk toward healing?”; the choice for participants to not tell their story and remain anonymous. The witnessing that occurs for the participant is translated into the portrait.

Portraits are then made available for display in public venues along with brochures of support services and mental health providers who facilitate recovery.

Hood intends to create 30 portraits for a rotating traveling exhibit. Eleven portraits have been on display at SAVES in Farmington and are also on display at the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area from Aug. 6 to Sept. 20.

They can be viewed online at For information, Hood may be contacted at

You’re not alone

Waking Up Scared (Healing, PTSD & Sexual Abuse)
via Bangor Daily News:

4am is her witching hour. She wakes each morning with adrenaline coursing through her veins. Her heartbeat hammers rapidly and every muscle in her body is impossibly tense. She’s in fight or flight mode but there’s no one to fight and nowhere to run.

The first 30 seconds feels like half an hour. It’s the time in between sleep and waking. What’s real? What isn’t?

It’s much worse than a bad dream. It. Feels. Like. It. Just. Happened. Again.

The tears come but she fights them. She checks the sheets but they’re clean. She sits on the side of the bed – rocking back and forth but it’s a little too fast to bring comfort. “Breath!” Can’t get enough oxygen. Hyperventilating is terrifying. Head pounding. Need light. Need air. Must get out of this room.

She walks outside. Lights a cigarette. Nicotine helps. Start the coffee – no chance of going back to sleep now. Go to the bathroom but turn away from the medicine cabinet mirror. Cold water on her face stings but feels real. Still avoiding the mirror, can’t stand the image there. She needs a shower but it doesn’t feel okay to do that yet.

Settle in with some reading – daily affirmations. Get centered. Prayers are sent but feel futile. She never got the hang of meditation. It just gets her stuck in her head.
Song on Pandora grabs her attention:

“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing .Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in”
The Script “Breakeven”

Make plans for the day. Staying busy helps. Make lists. Combine them with yesterday’s lists. Sun’s coming up. Therapy today. Have to go shower. Fear. Self loathing. Shame.

She doesn’t know that others struggle with this too. I try to be gentle but direct, “You’re naked and wet in an enclosed area with nowhere to run or hide. You close your eyes to keep the shampoo out. You can’t hear what’s going on in the rest of the house. It’s a form of physical vulnerability. It makes sense that you’re scared.

I just want to help her stop feeling like she’s crazy – like she’s the only one who struggles with these things.

Scalding hot water. Pain. Scrubbing way too hard. Still can’t remove the feeling of being dirty. “You know that it’s not on your skin. It’s burned on your memory. It’s a feeling of shame based on what was done to you. It’s not your fault. Please cool off the water. It’s hurting you.”

We talk about how she copes, how she sees herself, how she struggles to have self control. She confesses what she sees as sin, “I feel like a little girl a lot of the time.” She finds it hard to believe that I have known a lot of adults who feel like children.

I ask her to recall how she described feeling broken when we first met – she nods. We’ve talked about defining moments in her life – the first at age 8. She was never free to be innocent and her emotional growth was arrested by ongoing sexual trauma and abuse.

She’s 35. Physically she feels like she’s 80. In the outside world her composure and behavior is that of a very successful professional. Emotionally/internally she’s somewhere between 8-16 depending on her feelings, stress, and levels of anxiety.

She lives with PTSD, an anxiety disorder. She experiences vivid nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. She has co-occurring panic attacks and depression. Her prognosis is good and getting better, but the work ahead of her is hard. In truth, it’s one of the most difficult things a human being can do – but it’s not as bad as what she’s already been through and it’s not as bad as living this way indefinitely.

We’re working on strategies to promote a sense of safety. She’s implemented simple ways she can use her five senses (taste, touch, sound, smell, and sound) to connect to her here and now. She is mindful that when she’s overwhelmed, she is not dealing with her current reality – she is somewhere in her past.
She’s making changes to her physical environment. She realized that even some of her prized possessions are associated with her past memories. They were in her bedroom when she was eight. They’re packed away now – not discarded – it’s just not time for those now.

We’re working on a very difficult piece. She’s begun journaling the content of her nightmares and we’re exploring the themes and the memories. She’s accepted that the only way out of it is through it because there is no forgetting.

She’s accepted that it’s ok for a grown woman to leave her lights on at night, hug stuffed animals, and do anything that doesn’t hurt her to make the “shadows” to go away. She’s getting better and through group therapy and self help she’s connecting to others with similar experiences. She knows now that she’s not alone.

Telling our stories connects us. The best we can be alone is lonely.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

Just listen

An amazing quote on active listening:

“When I was younger, I thought listening was just about learning the contents of someone’s mind. I’d always try to finish their thoughts, just to show them that I knew what they were thinking. As I got older, I learned to listen better. I realized that by trying to anticipate their mind, I was ignoring their heart.”Humans of New York